A camping car heater is an essential accessory to sleep comfortably during winter camping, especially if the temperatures in your location dip considerably at night.

Unlike a regular tent, the car already has a hard outer shell, which provides basic protection from wildlife and creepy crawlies. With the right kind of insulation, sleeping bags, layering, and a camping car heater, the inside of your car will be considerably warmer than any tent out there, making car camping more popular than ever.

Also, your car gives you the added advantage of being capable of simply driving off, especially if everything is already inside the car. There’s hardly any need to start packing up camp and worrying about where all that stuff will fit in your backpack. You can put it all in the trunk of your car.


Safety Tips for Using Camping Car Heaters

Heat sources such as portable propane heaters emit radiant heat; that’s how they keep the spaces around them warm and why most portable heaters have a designated rating for the size of area or space they can successfully heat.

However, every heat source, be it a car heater, a wood stove, or a propane heater has inherent risks. This is particularly enhanced when used in an enclosed space, such as inside a car at night. As such, there are some safety precautions you need to take to keep yourself safe when using camping car heaters.

Use Heaters Designed for Indoor Use

Make sure the heater you purchase is designed for indoor use. If you are going to use a propane heater when winter camping in your car, this should be the first safety feature you look for.

The best part of the portable heater’s design for indoor use is that they often come with certain built-in safety features. These often include:

  • A thermostat
  • Low oxygen sensors
  • Automatic shut-off

You must confirm these must-have features before buying and using the heater as part of your camping car accessories.

Keep the Camping Car Heater in a Safe Space

As mentioned, most portable heaters emit radiant heat. Depending on the direction, this heat can be so intense that it can potentially start a fire. For this reason, you need to ensure that the portable space heater you have is used properly and in a safe space.

  • Make sure the heating element is pointing away from any flammable materials, such as car upholstery
  • If you are car camping with a pet or children, make sure that they can’t easily access the heater when it’s on
  • If you are RV camping, make sure that the heater isn’t placed where there is a lot of traffic where it can easily get knocked over
  • Be sure to keep any extra propane tanks away from the heater when it’s on

Crack Some Windows

Carbon monoxide is a by-product of the reaction when you use space heaters, wood-burning stoves, propane heaters, or any other type of catalytic heater to generate heat. This is an odorless, extremely dangerous gas produced by most camping accessories with a heat output based on fuel such as diesel or propane.

In an enclosed space, carbon monoxide build-up can be lethal. Crack a window or two in your car or RV when using these heaters. This vents the carbon monoxide and reduces its levels.

Even low levels of carbon monoxide can lead to various health problems for people with breathing problems or asthma. High levels of carbon monoxide can be fatal.

Note: You must buy a carbon monoxide detector if you intend to use tent or gas heaters. If you are RV camping, you will find these detectors hardwired into the rig.

If you are car camping and planning to use a car heater that uses diesel fuel, you need to have a functional carbon monoxide detector. This portable carbon monoxide detector can be used in your car or tent.


Camping Car Heaters That Are Safe to Use

You can use several car camping heaters on your next car camping trip. What you choose will depend on your particular set-up and preferences. With that in mind, here are some camping car heater options you could try.

Mr. Heater Buddy

Mr. Heater Buddy

Mr. Heater is one of the most trusted brand names in the portable heater space. The Mr. Buddy Heater is trusted by many campers and offroad enthusiasts for several good reasons. For starters, it is lightweight, weighing only 9 pounds; this powerful space heater can provide heat coverage of up to 225 sq. ft.

Specifically designed for indoor use, the Mr. Buddy Heater has no open flames. Its front, however, can get extremely hot, so it is advisable not to touch it while running.

Designed to use 1-pound propane cylinders that screw into a port, this heater gives off 4,000 to 9,000 BTUs and can run for about 2.4 hours on full blast and about 5.4 hours on low.

It has all the ideal safety features, including:

  • Auto shut-off should it accidentally tip over
  • An oxygen depletion sensor is designed to automatically turn the heater off whenever the oxygen in the designated space is too low

Finally, it has a fold-down handle, which makes it extremely easy to carry.

It should be noted that the Mr. Heater Portable Buddy can get quite hot and isn’t exactly ideal for small spaces. So, if you are car camping in a small car or aren’t that cold, you might want to consider getting the smaller alternative, the Mr. Heater Little Buddy.

Mr. Heater Little Buddy is the ideal portable tent heater. It comes with all the wonderful safety features of Mr. Heater Buddy while being smaller, lighter, and more portable. In addition, it produces 3,800 BTUs and provides heat coverage of up to 95 sq. ft. Plus, it’s cheaper.

Dreo Portable Electric Heater 

Dreo Space Heater Indoor, 1500W Portable Heaters... Dreo Portable Electric Heater

If you are concerned about the carbon monoxide risk that comes with catalytic heaters, then you might want to consider an electric heater such as the Dreo Portable Electric Heater. The Dreo Portable Electric Heater is a small, lightweight space heater that can provide heat coverage of up to 300 sq. ft. and weighs only 3.8 pounds.

This Dreo Portable Electric Heater has four main modes:

  • High
  • Low
  • ECO
  • Fan

These modes are designed to personalize your experience. The ECO mode, in particular, is designed to help save energy. It adjusts the power based on the surrounding environment keeping you warm while cutting down heating costs simultaneously.

It has a host of safety features, including:

  • When it overheats, it automatically shuts-off.
  • Made out of flame-retardant material, ensuring that it’s not a fire hazard
  • Auto shut-off tip-over switch turns off the heater, whenever it’s accidentally knocked over

It’s quiet and quite convenient to use. The only issue with this portable car heater is that it needs a power source, which means you will have to plug it into a generator or another power source at the campsite.


Alternative Car Camping Heaters

If you don’t want a gas heater, an electric heater, or even a diesel heater for your car camping trip, then there are other options you can consider. Some of the most practical options include:

Water Heaters

You can use hot water bottles to warm yourself through the night. These are simple to use and reliable. All you have to do is boil some water, put it in a hot water bottle, and keep it inside your sleeping bag through the night. The issue with hot water bottles is that they will only warm up a small section of the sleeping bag. As such, you might need to use several.

RV Furnace

If using an RV, then you can use the in-house campervan heater, RV heater, or RV furnace. But if these components aren’t electric, you must pay close attention to the carbon monoxide levels. The best part about modern RVs is that they come with sensors and safety features to help keep you safe.

As you can see, there are several excellent options for car camping heaters. The idea is to find one that works best for you, given your specific camping situation. On the other hand, if you are camping in a big car, you will probably do well with the Mr. Heater Portable Buddy. But if you are in a small car, then maybe the Mr. Heater Little Buddy or a few hot water bottles will do the trick.


Safety Precautions and Emergency Protocols

Essential Safety Tips for Using Camping Car Heaters

Safety should always be your top priority. Ensure your camping car is well-ventilated, never leave the heater unattended, and keep flammable materials away. Familiarize yourself with the safety features of your heater and use them properly.

Emergency Protocols: What to Do in Case of Malfunction

In case of a heater malfunction, it’s important to know how to react. Turn off the heater immediately, ensure adequate ventilation, and evacuate the camping car if necessary. Always have a fire extinguisher accessible and know how to use it.

Recommended read: Best Alternatives To Yeti Cooler | Coolers Like YETI


Need More Advice on Gear and Footwear?

Here are some links to our most popular articles:

Join our Facebook Group – Outdoor Gear Reviews, Deals, Hacks & Advice- Backpacking, Hiking & Camping to get the latest reviews, deals, and discounts on backpacking, camping, and hiking gear. Share tips, and advice and to show our love, we also give monthly gear giveaways.


Last update on 2024-04-14 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API